Preserving the integrity of the family and nurturing the love between husband and wife is one of the biggest challenges that devotees bring to Our Mother of Perpetual Help at the shrine. Many families of devotees have experienced problems and crisis in the family and married life like Sylvia who wrote a thanksgiving letter in December 31, 2014:
Thank you very much for all the blessings that you have bestowed upon our whole family. Thank you God the Father for all the trials that we experienced as a whole family especially our marriage which I thought would collapse. From the bottom of my heart, thank you because you did not allow our marriage to break up. And because of the trials that we have experienced as a couple, we became stronger, our understanding for each other has deepened. Thank you that our family is still whole. It is indeed a big blessing that our family is still one until today.
Keeping the family close together is one of the greatest challenges of the 21st century. Along with war, poverty, social injustice, violence and climate change, marriage and family breakdown contribute to one of the greatest heart aches of the human race today. Almost, all of us have known, if not we ourselves, a member of a family or a friend who has experienced the pain and struggles of separation within a family. I myself have one.
Believe it or not, the breakdown of family due to the separation or divorce between husband and wife sadly had been around for centuries, even in ancient times.
In the gospel today, the Pharisees came to Jesus to ask the question whether it is lawful for a husband to divorce his wife. Even during Moses’ time (1300–1200 BCE?), divorce was a common custom. The divorce statute is contained in the book of Deuteronomy:
When a man, after marrying a woman and having relations with her, is later displeased with her because he finds in her something indecent [erwath dabar], and therefore he writes out a bill of divorce and hands it to her, thus dismissing her from his house. … (Deut 24:1-4)
This statue, however, is heavily favorable to the husband and biased to the wife, understable in a predominantly patriarchal society. In Jewish law, a man could only commit adultery against another man, i.e., if he has relations with the other man’s wife. He could not commit adultery against his own wife. Jesus, in responding to the Pharisees’ question, revolutionary for his times, explicitly declared that the man definitely has committed a sin “against her” when a man divorces his wife. By declaring this, Jesus elevates the woman to real equality with man.
“Whoever divorces his wife and marries another
commits adultery against her;
Jesus’ intention, however, went further beyond raising the dignity of women. Jesus went on to uphold the original dignity of marriage. Jesus recited the Genesis’ passage of creation to explain God’s original intention.
But from the beginning of creation, God made them male and female.
For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother
and be joined to his wife,
and the two shall become one flesh.
So they are no longer two but one flesh.
Therefore what God has joined together,
no human being must separate.”
Jesus’ reiteration of marriage as a permanent covenant commitment comes not as a new stricture but as an affirmation of a relationship built into the original blessing of creation. Marriage is a reflection of God’s unconditional and unbounded love with each other and for us his people. The loving union of a married couple is founded on the love of God within God’s life–one God, three persons.
Despite that we live in a world today where a culture of divorce is prevalent, Jesus’ words in the gospel today can offer hope and inspiration especially to married couples undergoing trials and crisis. Despite that many countries in the world has made divorce legal, a plain admission of the common reality of separation of couples, Jesus’ words remain a valid and sublime vision of family and marriage.